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Before Emily could run in Paris, Mrs. Harris had to politely walk. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, now streaming on Peacock, makes for its own pleasant tale of finding oneself in the City of Light. But there’s more to this light tale of a foreigner visiting France than meets the eye, with the film showing a surprising willingness to interrogate the glitzy surfaces in which it luxuriates.

The Gist: Widowed London cleaner Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) feels a bit glum in her day-to-day life. What picks her out of the rut in which she begins the film is seeing a Dior dress at the home of the woman who employs her services, Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor). Mrs. Harris, a dreamer at her core, gets it stuck in her head that she needs to go get a Dior dress in Paris to unlock true happiness. Sure enough, she’ll scrounge together every last cent to make her dream a reality.

When she does manage to scrape together the funds to make it Paris for a Dior dress, Mrs. Harris receives a quintessentially French (read: snooty) reception by the woman working the desk (Isabelle Huppert, as stern as ever). Even in spite of this welcome, her indomitable spirit manages to endear the attention of the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson). From there, everything seems to fall into place magically, including a place to stay for a week as the dress comes together from an employee (Lucas Bravo) taken by her charms. But even as she makes strides toward achieving the object of her desire, the happiness of which she dreams still feels elusive. Is it possible that true contentment comes not from an object of capitalist desire but the people who she encounters along the way?

Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris
Photo: © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The sweet older woman protagonist recalls such heartwarming flicks as the Judi Dench-starring Philomena or the Blythe Danner-starring I’ll See You in My Dreams. (A much more sexually frank, although no less light, film also reminiscent of this is fellow 2022 release Good Luck to You, Leo Grande with Emma Thompson front-and-center.)

Performance Worth Watching: Lesley Manville is absolutely radiant as Mrs. Harris, reflecting both her simple decency and well-worn wisdom. The actress, familiar to many from Phantom Thread where she worked in an entirely different register, has a smile with enough wattage to power a city block in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. The film does not work if she’s not as instantly sympathetic and radiantly good as she is here.

Memorable Dialogue: “I saw that dress, and I thought of dreams and fairytales,” Mrs. Harris tells André (Lucas Bravo) as she’s describing her journey to Paris. When encountering some pushback from him that fantasy must encounter harsh reality at some point, she beautifully replies, “We need our dreams … now more than ever.”

Sex and Skin: This PG-rated film is about as chaste as they come — even Mrs. Harris getting a little risqué at a nightclub show features nothing more than a few bare-chested men and scantily clad female dancers.

Our Take: While Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris initially presents itself as a glossy empowerment tale, the film slowly reveals itself to have much more on its mind. It’s not so simple as “good things happening to good people,” and that’s for the best. Mrs. Harris’ adventures in Paris lead her a more complex lesson about self-confidence and assertiveness. She learns not to be a doormat along the journey to long-awaited satisfaction. Director Anthony Fabian gets a little clumsy when that path intersects with striking Parisian workers or the movement to democratize high fashion, but the blend mostly works.

Our Call: STREAM IT! Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris movingly weaves a tale about finding an outer beauty that reflects the purity of heart within. It’s as pleasant as you want a movie like this to be, yet it does so without simplification that patronizes the audience.

Marshall Shaffer is a New York-based freelance film journalist. In addition to Decider, his work has also appeared on Slashfilm, Slant, Little White Lies and many other outlets. Some day soon, everyone will realize how right he is about Spring Breakers.

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